SIPHO. believes in the powers of the universe. “I am cosmic-minded when it comes to my career, as I know that things had to line up in a special way for me to get here,” says the 21-year-old vocalist and producer. “You see, I’m sure there’s a force above that’s providing me with opportunity after opportunity. And all I can say in this moment is: ‘Fucking hell, thank you so much’.”
When it comes to making bold statements like these, few do it with the unapologetic charisma of SIPHO. (pronounced See-Poe). As we sit in the corner of a dimly-lit bar in north London chatting about coincidence and the cosmic, he talks very slowly, deliberately and precisely, leaning towards NME’s dictaphone to make sure that it picks up every word. “Something special must have brought us together today to talk about my music,” he continues. “I can’t tell you what it is, but I’m looking for the answer. All I know is that I’ve just been myself from the start.”
This theme of figuring things out as he goes along has largely defined SIPHO.’s success thus far. In an era defined by streaming service algorithms, many artists are finding true creativity to be reward-free — but not SIPHO.. His music is galactic in scope, an illuminating blend of styles — electro-pop, gospel, soul, a hint of jazz — anchored in disquietingly beautiful R&B. He is equally at home writing and producing, and possesses a highly distinctive voice that somehow manages to be smooth as syrup yet tough and resilient, as demonstrated on new single ‘Beady Eyes’. “I like my smiles mixed with a hint of tears,” he sings powerfully over a moody bass rumble.
“I sound like I’m having a nervous breakdown in most of my music”, he says, laughing. “But I’m blessed to be in a position where people connect to my songs. It’s as though the emotion comes from knowing that I was put here to do my job as a creative.”
SIPHO. can be forgiven for seeking out a higher narrative to his life story. He was born into a busy, noisy and musical family in Birmingham, who encouraged him to quit a burgeoning career in track athletics in order to firstly focus on his GCSEs and then on his music. Raised as part of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the teachings that he identified with evolved throughout his mid-teens, and he started attending services voluntarily at the age of 14. But the commercialism of the religion – as displayed on YouTube channels such as the It’s Supernatural! Network, where evangelists try to sell stories about their alleged experiences with a higher power – overstepped the mark for SIPHO., prompting him to shift his focus instead to the music he was recording, producing and self-releasing at home to SoundCloud.
How did that feel? “It was tough. But, then again, my family weren’t madly committed to the Church,” he says, carefully. “A lot of people might still think that I’m a bit of a ‘church boy’. You can try and control other people’s perceptions as much as you want, but then that takes away from focusing on making good music.”
‘Bodies’, the brave, gorgeous lead single from SIPHO.’s self-produced debut EP ‘AND GOD SAID…’, certainly sounds like someone working through their private pain in public, as it speaks on religious devotion, life and death through someone who can feel their “whole world changing”. Whether you’re listening to SIPHO.’s music alone or over wine with him in-person, you can almost forget that much of it was born from the late nights he’s spent analysing his relationship with his faith, in all its contrasting pain and enlightenment. That was by design.
“I want to get all the shit out of my head and into the world. But also, there’s other young people who don’t know how to fully speak up for themselves, so I want to uplift them,” he says. “I really do feel like it’s my purpose.”
Significantly, SIPHO. has recently been anointed as Dirty Hit’s latest protégé. The star-making label has made a habit of identifying some of the finest rising musical talent, launching the careers of Beabadoobee and Rina Sawayama in recent years and housing The 1975 since their early EPs. “Dirty Hit have their [finger on the] pulse of the culture,” he beams. “I feel like I’m part of the right conversations.”
SIPHO.’s willingness, meanwhile, to be so open with others manifests itself in his music, which he sees as a way to connect with people across the world who he may never meet in his own personal life.
“A lot of my creativity comes from summing up the generational struggles that I see around me,” he says. “I’m trying to express how it feels to be part of Gen Z and all the fuckeries that we’re having to go through. But equally, a 50-year-old man in Norway might hear my music and think, ‘Wow, this means something to me,’ and then carry my messages forward with them in life.
“I want to make a new community,” he adds. “Let’s all learn something together. I’ll make my mistakes, other people will make theirs — but we can figure things out together.”
SIPHO.’s new single ‘Beady Eyes’ is out now